Defending women’s champion Baylor stunned by Louisville

OKLAHOMA CITY — From the opening tip of the season, there was only one question in women’s basketball: How do you stop Brittney Griner?

Louisville found the answer Sunday, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

Considered a lock for the Final Four — and prohibitive favorites to win a second straight championship — Griner and her Lady Bears got bounced 82-81 by fifth-seeded Louisville in a regional semifinal.

“I’m just sad,” Griner said. “I didn’t do what I needed to do to get my team to the Elite Eight.”

Baylor (34-2) had won 32 straight games and 74 of 75 behind Griner, who’s among the greatest players ever in her sport. But the 6-foot-8 star didn’t make a basket until the second half, then committed a foul with 2.6 seconds left that gave Louisville a chance to win.

Monique Reid made those two foul shots, rescuing the Cardinals (27-8) after they squandered a 17-point lead in the last 7½ minutes.

Odyssey Sims scored 29 points, including two free throws with 9.1 seconds to go that put Baylor ahead 81-80. Sims had one more chance to save the season, but she was off-target and late on a desperation heave.

Sims dropped to the floor after her miss, pulling her jersey over her face and kicking her legs as she lay flat on her back. Griner squatted near her and slapped the floor with both hands before pulling Sims up to her feet.

It was a stunning end of a remarkable college career for Griner, the second-highest scoring player in NCAA history. Griner, who had averaged 33 points in Baylor’s first two games of the tournament, didn’t make a basket until she converted a putback with 15:20 left in the second half. She wound up with 14 points and 10 rebounds, making only four of her 10 shots and being a relative non-factor for her considerable stature.

Louisville surrounded Griner as she has been most of her career, and her teammates were unusually unable to hit outside shots and relieve the pressure.

The Lady Bears had been practically invincible for the past four months, winning 32 straight games mostly by double digits.

It’s no surprise that the Louisville women were a 24-point underdog to Baylor in Las Vegas casinos. Odds on Louisville to win outright were 75-1, paying $7,500 on a $100 wager.

It was Sims who eventually led Baylor’s attempted comeback from a 17-point deficit in the final 7½ minutes, after Louisville’s barrage of 3-pointers finally came to an end.

Sims hit a pair of free throws and then got a steal in the backcourt for a layup that got Baylor within a dozen, and the Lady Bears put together a 19-4 run to get within striking distance in the final two minutes.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz was called for a technical foul for arguing after he watched a scoreboard replay of an offensive foul whistled against Bria Smith, with a Baylor defender sliding under her after she took off. Sims hit the resulting free throws and then a runner to get the Lady Bears within 78-76 with 1:49 to play.

After a Megan Deines layup off a baseline inbounds play, Sims answered with a 3-pointer to cut it to one with 35.8 seconds left. She then hit two free throws to put Baylor ahead after Jude Schimmel fumbled an inbounds pass under her own basket, Griner picked it up and passed it to Sims.

The Lady Bears still couldn’t close it out.

Antonita Slaughter hit seven 3-pointers for 21 points and Shoni Schimmel had five 3s.

As a team, Louisville was 16 for 25 to tie the NCAA tournament mark reached by four other teams and make the most ever in the regional semifinals or beyond.

“Every 3 they hit made it that much tougher,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “You keep thinking they’re going to start missing some, and they never did.”